March 26, 2016

The X-Files 2.20, Humbug: Born This Way

Posted in TV tagged at 2:21 pm by Jenn

Walk, walk, fashion, baby

Walk, walk, fashion, baby

Summary: Two kids are enjoying their evening in an above-ground pool in Gibsonton, Florida. A scaly creature watches them, then jumps in the pool with them, making them shout. But he’s their dad, and his scales don’t disturb them. He sends them inside to go to bed while another creature watches him swim. Suddenly the dad isn’t alone in the pool – the creature attacks him. A nearby van tells us that the dad is Jerald Glazebrook, the Alligator Man: “Is he a man, is he an animal, or is he a monster?”

Up in D.C., Mulder and Scully give the exposition that Jerald (now dead) had a skin discorder called ichthyosis (so no, he wasn’t a monster). When he was killed, his organs were removed. Jerald was the 48th person killed like this over the past 24 years, and the FBI can’t figure out what kind of killer they’re dealing with. Scully just feels bad about Jerald’s outer appearance: “Imagine going through your whole life looking like this.”

In Gibsonton, Jerald’s funeral is already well-attended when Mulder and Scully arrive. Everything seems pretty normal for a funeral until the agents see that the priest has no arms, the widow has a beard, and an attendant with a flask seems to have a baby or some small creature strapped to his stomach. Also, there are some little people and a super-tall guy sprinkled in the crowd. The priest mentions that Jerald was an escape artist, but there’s one box he won’t be able to escape – his coffin.

But suddenly the coffin begins to shake. The pallbearers pick it up, revealing that the shaking is coming from underground. A man digs his way out and announces that he wants to pay tribute to Jerald. Unfortunately, his idea of a tribute is ramming a spike into his chest. When he does, he starts bleeding. Who would have expected that? The police try to subdue him while the crowd runs off. In one of my favorite moments ever in this entire series, Mulder, who has stayed in his seat with Scully, casually says, “I can’t wait for the wake.”

The agents meet with the local sheriff, Hamilton, at a diner to talk about Jerald. Hamilton thinks Jerald was a good enough escape artist to have his own show in Vegas. He was only held back by his skin condition, which led him to work in sideshows. Gibsonton was founded during Barnum & Bailey’s heyday, and many sideshow performers still live there. Scully wonders if professional jealousy led to Jerald’s death.

Hamilton objects to how Scully refers to the performers, telling her that in Gibsonton, they’re called “very special people.” They may look different, but on the inside, they’re as normal as everyone else in town. Scully points out that one of them could be a serial killer, so maybe “normal” isn’t the right way to think of them.

Mulder admires the design on a placemat and asks to meet the artist, Hepcat Helm. Hamilton takes the agents over to meet Hepcat, who runs a carnival funhouse (though Hepcat prefers the term “tabernacle of terror”). Mulder wants to know more about a drawing on the placemat, which Hepcat IDs as the Fiji Mermaid.

Hamilton describes it as a “humbug” from Barnum’s time. People paid to see a mermaid but were shown a dead monkey instead. Hepcat admires Barnum for always keeping up an act, so people never knew “where the truth ends and the humbug begins.” Barnum admitted the mermaid wasn’t real, but people still wanted to see it. Hepcat isn’t sure what was real – maybe Barnum said it was fake when it wasn’t. Mulder shows Hamilton tracks found at some crime scenes, which appear to be simian in nature. Maybe they were made by the Fiji Mermaid!

The agents check into the Gulf Breeze Motel, which is run by the diminutive Mr. Nutt. He’s very offended by Mulder’s implication that he’s ever worked in a circus. He has a degree in hotel management! He doesn’t like that Mulder judges people by their appearances. To teach him a lesson, Mr. Nutt adds Mulder’s demeanor and clothing (including his “unimaginative necktie design”) together to determine that he’s an FBI agent. But now Mulder’s a caricature instead of a unique individual.

Lanny, the man with the flask from the funeral, shows the agents to their lodgings, telling them that he used to headline a circus act. He got paid to stand there and introduce his brother, Leonard. Lanny gave up the act when Mr. Nutt convinced him that displaying his deformity for other people’s entertainment took away his dignity: “So now I carry other people’s luggage.” Lanny shows the agents to their trailers, telling them not to let the bedbugs bite, though he doesn’t want them to think the place has bedbugs. Mulder will go with “don’t let the Fiji Mermaid bite.”

Hepcat spends the evening working on his art, but he’s interrupted when a small creature sneaks through his window and attacks him. Out for the run the next morning, Mulder sees a tattooed, loinclothed man emerge from a lake and eat a fish he just caught. Scully’s morning is much more peaceful, at least until she sees a man falling from a height outside her trailer window. Fortunately, he’s just jumping on a trampoline.

Lanny summons Scully to see Hamilton, accidentally exposing part of his huge belly through his robe. Scully can relate, since her cleavage is on display. Lanny announces that there’s been another murder. She meets Mulder and Hamilton at Hepcat’s, where Mulder notices blood on the window. Hamilton wonders why the attacker could come through the window instead of using the open door. Maybe they’re dealing with a contortionist.

At the motel/sideshow performers’ trailer park, the interrupter from the funeral is performing a new act, escaping from a straightjacket before he can be lowered into a pot of water. He boasts to the agents that he escaped in under three minutes. The man is Dr. Blockhead, and he objects to Mulder’s characterization of his stunt at the funeral as a “trick.” (“Illusion, Michael!”) They’re “outstanding acts of body manipulation and pain endurance.”

Dr. Blockhead nails a nail into his nose while Scully guesses that he lacks pain receptors in his nerve endings. He says he’s studied with yogis and other gurus to train his body to do whatever he wants. For example, a person can train his testicles to drop into his abdomen, if he’d like. “I’m doing that as we speak,” Mulder quips.

The tattooed man emerges from the pot of water and Mulder mentions seeing him with the fish. Dr. Blockhead says that the tattooed man knows he shouldn’t snack between shows. He IDs the tattooed man as the Conundrum, a “geek” who will eat anything. Scully wonders if that includes human flesh. Dr. Blockhead doesn’t know, and the Conundrum doesn’t answer questions.

Dr. Blockhead feeds the Conundrum some crickets, then offers them to the agents. Only Scully partakes, but she only pretends to eat the bug. Later, she “pulls” it from behind Mulder’s ear, a trick she learned from her amateur-magician uncle. Mulder tells her he’s taking the nail Dr. Blockhead put in his nose to a lab to see if his blood matches the blood from Hepcat’s place. He’s palmed the nail, telling Scully, “Everyone’s uncle’s an amateur magician.”

Scully heads to a local museum to study the history of sideshow attractions. The proprietor tells her about the deaths of Chang and Eng, which is not exactly a bedtime story you want to tell your kids. The proprietor mentions how horrible it would be to wake up to find your conjoined twin, knowing you didn’t have much time left either. Chang died of a cerebral hemorrhage, and Eng died of fright.

Scully asks for information on geek and blockhead acts, but the proprietor doesn’t consider geeks on the same level as other sideshow performers – they’re “unseemly.” They’re similar to gaffes, or phonies. Scully asks if the Fiji Mermaid falls into that category. The proprietor shows her a program from a show starring the Dog-Faced Boy, then agrees to show her something from Barnum’s collection. Scully pays $5 to be let into a room containing only an empty trunk. She’s been humbugged!

Mulder arrives at Scully’s trailer to see someone crawling around underneath it. But it’s just Mr. Nutt, and he claims he’s fixing the plumbing. Mr. Nutt rants that he’s not there to do anything he shouldn’t be; he doesn’t even want to spy on Scully, since he apparently has his own romantic partner. After all, “not all women are attracted to overly tall, lanky man such as [Mulder].” Many women find Mr. Nutt’s size “intriguingly alluring.” Mulder replies that many men do, too. Mr. Nutt doesn’t know how to respond to that.

Mulder studies some footprints outside the trailer, then goes inside to tell Scully that the blood on Dr. Blockhead’s nail is the same type as the blood from Hepcat’s window. Research revealed that Dr. Blockhead isn’t really a doctor. Scully shares her own research – in 1943, a feral orphan was found in the Albanian woods, unable to speak. He was displayed in a cage and entertained people by eating raw meat. When he ran away from the circus, he took up some odd jobs, then eventually settled down in Gibsonton…as a police officer. Before becoming James Hamilton, the sheriff was Jim-Jim the Dog-Faced Boy.

The agents spy on Hamilton as he buries something in his yard. Later, they dig up what he buried, but Mulder thinks they’re discriminating against Hamilton – just because he used to be really hairy doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. Scully admits that it’s like racial profiling. Hamilton catches the agents in the yard, and Mulder realizes too late that they’ve dug up…a potato.

Scully tries to come up with a cover story, claiming that they’re just keeping an eye on someone they’re working with to make sure they can trust him. Mulder cuts to the chase: “We found out you used to be a dog-faced boy.” Hamilton confirms this, telling the agents that he quit being Jim-Jim when he started losing his hair and realized he couldn’t keep up his career. Also, he buried the potato because of an old wives tale about warts.

The Conundrum chases a dog through the trailer park, losing it when it goes into Mr. Nutt’s office. The Conundrum is just there to hand over a check with a small pin in it. Mr. Nutt asks his dog, Commodore, why the “weirdos” are the only ones who pay their rent in advance. The dog is still barking, indicating that someone’s still outside. A hand reaches through the doggie door to grab at Mr. Nutt – it’s the creature that killed Hepcat.

Lanny wakes Scully in the middle of the night to tell her that someone’s dead. He found Mr. Nutt in his office. Mulder notices the pin from the check in Mr. Nutt’s hand. Lanny starts raging over the death of his friend, but Hamilton calms him down, then takes him to the drunk tank. Scully’s surprised that they’re not dealing with something more “freakish.”

The agents go to arrest Dr. Blockhead, who’s been lying on a bed of nails. He refuses to answer any questions without his lawyer, but his lawyer is himself, so I’m not sure how that works. Scully cuffs him, which Dr. Blockhead notes is a dumb idea, since he’s an escape artist. He indeed escapes, and in the accompanying scuffle, Mulder falls on the bed of nails. He declares it “more comfortable than a futon.” Dr. Blockhead doesn’t get very far, as Hamilton nabs him.

Lanny wakes up in the drunk tank to see something surprising and horrifying. When the agents arrive with Hamilton and Dr. Blockhead, they hear him yelling, but Hamilton thinks he’s just being his usual drunk self. He’s not – he’s bleeding, and it looks like his attacker escaped through a window. Scully realizes that the wound in Lanny’s stomach is similar to the wounds of the other victims. She suspects Lanny’s brother, Leonard, who normally resides in Lanny’s stomach.

Long story short: Leonard can escape from Lanny’s body and kill people. Scully wryly reminds Hamilton what he said about what’s inside people being what counts. Lanny confirms her theory, saying he couldn’t turn Leonard in without turning himself in. He doesn’t think Leonard knows he’s hurting people; he’s just looking for another brother. Lanny says Leonard can survive outside Lanny’s body “long enough to understand that you can’t change the way you were born.” He thinks Leonard will be back to rejoin his real brother.

Scully peers out the window and sees a door opening – Leonard’s on the move. She and Mulder run off while Dr. Blockhead raves over how cool of an act Lanny and Leonard could have. The agents corner Leonard in the “tabernacle of terror,” but the tabernacle is pretty big, with lots of hallways, so they have a hard time finding him. Scully winds up in a room of mirrors, shooting one because she thinks it’s Leonard. Uh-oh, seven years of bad luck for Scully!

Mulder slides through some sort of tunnel to meet up with Scully on Leonard’s trail. They wind up back near the trailer park, where the Commodore is barking again. Leonard attacks the Conundrum, and Mulder and Scully follows his shrieks. They find him on the ground, seemingly fine, though the new expansion of his stomach indicates where Leonard has met his end.

The next day, Hamilton and his deputies check out the trailer park, but there’s no sign of Leonard. Hamilton taunts that maybe Scully saw the Fiji Mermaid. “Now you know how I feel,” Mulder says. Dr. Blockhead is packing up to leave, not wanting to become Leonard’s next victim. Scully tells him that Lanny died, which means Leonard won’t be able to “go home” to his brother. Lanny’s cause of death was cirrhosis, though.

Scully says she’s never seen anything like Leonard and Lanny’s situation before. Dr. Blockhead says she probably won’t ever see it again – thanks to advances in genetics, people with anomalies will soon be eradicated. Even small things like overbites will one day be gone. “See, I’ve seen the future, and the future looks just like him,” Dr. Blockhead says, gesturing at Mulder. “Imagine going through your whole life looking like that.”

Dr. Blockhead thinks he and the Conundrum have a responsibility to continue displaying their abnormalities and make sure people don’t forget about them. “Nature abhors normality,” so it won’t be long before mutants reappear. He doesn’t know why, but maybe some mysteries aren’t meant to be solved. As Dr. Blockhead and Conundrum head off to their next destination, the agents note that the Conundrum looks a little ill. For the first time all episode, the Conundrum has something to say: “Probably something I ate.”

Thoughts: This episode took me longer than usual to recap because there’s so much good dialogue and I couldn’t bear to let any of it go.

Mr. Nutt is played by Michael J. Anderson, who was on Twin Peaks with David Duchovny.

Legend has it that Gillian Anderson actually ate an insect while filming. I think that’s taking method acting a little too far.

If I ever get a dog, I’m naming it the Commodore.


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